IN November 1967, Winnie Ewing stepped on a train in Glasgow, with 300 supporters, and set off for London. She had just won the Hamilton by-election, and was about to enter the Houses of Parliament as only the second ever SNP MP. The train stopped at 3am in Newcastle, where a piper played an eightsome reel and the platform came alive with dancing. Yet despite the joyous excitement as she approached the metropolis, Mrs Ewing was nervous. Recollecting the day she entered Westminster, she wrote: “My strongest emotion was fear. How would I stand up to the strains of a political life in the House of Commons?”

She was right to worry, as no doubt every politician has, particularly if they are women. Yet, outwardly calm and poised, as if she was merely opening a church fete, Mrs Ewing took the House of Commons in her high-heeled stride. It was not always easy, indeed it was probably never easy, but she not only survived, but thrived, paving the way for those who were to follow.

I thought of her, standing in her painfully pinching shoes waiting to make her maiden speech, when I read that Mhairi Black, Westminster’s youngest MP in centuries, has admitted she finds politics depressing, and some of the people she works alongside “troubling”. So uncongenial is

the atmosphere she is considering not standing for re-election, and turning to some other occupation instead.

When I heard this, I confess to also feeling troubled and depressed. The fanfare with which the 22-year-old was returned as SNP member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South in 2015 might not have been as exuberant as Mrs Ewing’s send-off, but for many it was a moment of equally high hope and spirits. Her meteoric rise, articulate passion and commitment to her constituency’s welfare suggested the country could look forward to a brighter future if young people like her want to help make it succeed. To learn that her enthusiasm has waned so quickly and she is disheartened and overwhelmed is to feel all our prospects and fortunes a little dimmed.

Ms Black’s words suggest profound disillusionment. While one sympathises, however, this is not the time to offer a shoulder on which to cry. Entering Westminster would be daunting for anyone, let alone one straight out of university. At an age when many of her peers are interns or serving behind a bar, Black has been catapulted into the midst of some of the most vicious, clever, wily, weaselly people in the country – and those are just the members of her own party. To listen to Prime Minister’s Questions is to hear the baying of hounds on the scent of a terrified fox, many of them male. It is an arena that calls for extraordinary assurance, self-belief and resilience, but as we saw when she gave her maiden speech, Ms Black has those in abundance.

Although Paisley’s MP is fed up with her age being mentioned, it indubitably plays a part. Fired up by political fervour, like any newcomer she will have found the snail’s-pace procedures and antediluvian rituals of daily politics frustrating and boring. Those who go into vocational occupations do so because they have been inspired to make a difference, and when they are young they want to do it quickly. In that respect a politician is like a doctor or advocate: constantly listening, analysing, solving problems, and working pitiless hours that allow scant time for a personal life. I can’t help but notice, however, that in these professions, as perhaps in Ms Black’s case, it is often the most able who tend to quit early. Perhaps they cannot face doing anything that falls short of brilliant or noteworthy. Others, maybe better used to mediocrity, or simply more mature, follow the plough ploddingly to the end of the field. As in all lines of work, perseverance, that least glamorous of credentials, is ultimately one of the most important.

Ms Black’s appointment heralded a new era not just for the country, but for all educated women. As a lesbian she was making history on several fronts, showing that age, gender and sexuality are no bar to holding one of the most responsible and privileged roles in society. When women are still woefully under-represented in high office across the professions, her arrival in SW1 was like watching a shooting star flash across the political firmament.

It would be a sore disappointment if this most promising, talented individual crashed and burned. Her talents are rare: high intelligence and a social conscience coupled with an approachable manner and plain-speaking forthrightness. That she is contemplating her departure is a severe indictment of the mood and methods in the most powerful chamber in the country. Yet how will it ever get better if people like her walk away?

The hard truth about being a politician is that it is a long game. You cannot change the world in a year or even five, but you might in 20 or 30. It is like art or poetry, where someone can paint or write in obscurity for decades before seeing any reward. Unlike Maggie Thatcher or Theresa May, who dreamed of occupying No 10 from their schooldays, Ms Black has said she has no ambition to become First Minister, let alone Prime Minister. It is part of her charm that she is palpably in the job for the betterment of others, not the advancement of herself. But as the French like to say, appetite comes with eating. How can a rookie possibly know what position she might aspire to hold one day?

It would be a short-sighted, panicky act of self-sabotage to abandon her seat at the next election and not strive towards becoming an influential part of the system. Only by steeling herself to endure the difficulties and drawbacks of her current position can Ms Black help eradicate the dry rot of an ancient democratic structure, and start building something stronger. Of course she should leave if she truly cannot bear it, but one would urge her to think hard about the consequences. It was a red-letter day when she walked into the Commons, but to make the sort of history that improves people’s lives usually takes a lifetime. The question is not whether she is capable of doing that, but if she has the stomach for it and really wants to.